How to Cure With Liquid Brine

Hi folks.  Once again I’ve leaned on Chefbear to hook us up with some knowledge… this time about how to cure meat and fish using liquid brine.  Not only did he come through with the liquid brine post, but he also sent me two more posts.  One about how to dry cure, and one on how to salt dried meat.  If you don’t know what this means you’ll have to read the posts, because once TSHTF you’ll want to know how to do these things to preserve your food.  I’ll be posting this three part series scattered over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.  Thanks again, Chefbear! 

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Hello ladies and gentlemen, Jarhead asked me if I could put together some information about curing for you guys. I am going to explain some methods used for curing, and cover basic smoking of meats, because smoking is usually used to set a cure and extend the shelf life of cured foods. Not to mention smoking adds a lot of flavor and reduces moisture content in foods, especially meats. I am assuming that those of you reading this post know how to process fish and game, so I won’t cover that. If you don’t know how to field dress/gut, skin, scale and butcher fish/game you should try to learn. These will be essential skills in a long term SHTF situation, and can prove useful in daily life. Any hunter or fisherman (or fisherwoman) “worth their salt” (pun intended) will be able to show you how to process. All right, let’s get started!

First things first, there are 2 types of curing, liquid and dry. In this post we will cover liquid curing.

Second, you need to understand the reason for a liquid cure/brine. The basic idea is to replace the water/moisture naturally found in meat with a flavored solution that is has a high salt content. The most common cure is a simple “super saturated” salt and water solution. I am gonna break one of my rules, and share my secret cure/brine recipe. This is an adaptation of a recipe that dates back to my ancestors in Sweden. The ability to cure and preserve, primarily fish, was one of the major reasons for Scandinavians being able to travel vast distances across the North Atlantic and there is even evidence that they made it as far as China.

This recipe is measured by parts, you can apply any measurement you want to this; i.e.- 1 part can equal 1 lb, 1 quart or even 1 tsp. The idea is to keep the ratio the same; i.e.- 1 part salt to 3 parts water can be translated to 1 cup salt and 3 cups water.

6 parts water

1 part kosher salt

**1 part brown/raw sugar**

**1/8 part seasoning**

Bring the water and seasoning to a simmer, turn off the heat, add all the other ingredients and stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Let the brine/cure cool to room temperature and strain off the seasoning before using on meat. Soak the meat you want to cure in the solution, use enough to cover the meat completely; I soak game/beef for ~12-24 hrs. Fish and fowl take much less time, the smaller the cuts the less time required. For salmon I usually soak for ~4-6 hrs, for turkey ~8-12 hrs.

** The seasoning can be just about anything you would like to use. However, avoid using seasoning blends (they usually contain more salt), and whole spices work best. I usually use whole black peppercorns, and bay leaves for game and beef. If you are curing fish cardamom, allspice, lemon zest/citron and even cinnamon can be used depending on your taste. This is a very versatile and adaptive recipe, play with it, and figure out what you like. Also the seasoning and sugar are not required if you would rather not use them or don’t have them to use. To extend the shelf life even more you can also add a product called Prague powder AKA pink curing salt. This can be purchased at most stores that carry game processing supplies or on the internet. Be sure to follow the directions for the particular brand you buy, if used in to large of quantity (several hundred times what you need) it can cause health issues or even be fatal. When used correctly it is safe and greatly increases the shelf life of meats, I have been using it for years and have never had a problem. Here is a link where you can learn more about the curing salt.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curing_salt

Smoking, as mentioned before, can be used to set a cure and by itself can help to preserve meats. Most people who smoke meats agree that fruit-woods or hard-woods are the best to use. I like to blend my woods for smoking; my favorite blend uses white oak, hickory and cherry/pear. Ornamental varieties are typically not suited for smoking, and some woods like pine can contain some pretty nasty stuff. Oak and hickory are the best all around woods to use for smoking.

There are 2 different methods or types of smoking, hot and cold. Hot smoking uses the heat generated from the smoking wood to actually cook the meat. Cold smoking is usually done with fish like salmon or tuna (although I have had cold smoked puffin from Iceland, it was amazing), it usually involves directing the smoke from burning wood into a separate box where the smoke is used to flavor the meat; because the heat generated from the wood is not used to cook the meat it retains a raw texture.

Hot smoking usually uses heat in the range of 200-250F, and both types of smoking take several hours or longer. I usually process deer into “primal” cuts, which is basically quartered. These large cuts can take days to smoke properly. Fish, poultry and smaller cuts of meat generally take 4-8 hrs. When hot smoking look for a firm texture to the meat (similar to a roast) and even dark color on the surface. Properly smoked meat should have a pink ring about ¼” under the surface and have a strong, but not overpowering smoke flavor.  A rub can also be used in smoking, but that is an entirely different subject all together.

 In the next post on the subject of curing we will cover a dry cure, which can also be used as a rub for smoking. Thanks guys! Please feel free to ask any questions you may have and I will answer them to the best of my abilities!

  • noisynick January 21, 2011, 11:36 am

    Thanks for a good post. I’ve smoked meats for years but the brine cure is something i need to try. we often inject our hams with sugar cure ie{thinned out maple syrup or brown sugar] along the bone and thru the meat before we put them in the smokehouse. Adds a little time to the smoking process but improves the flavor alot.
    Thanks Again

    Reply
  • Jennie January 21, 2011, 4:49 pm

    What do you do with the meat after you take it out of the brine? Or after you smoke cure it? Hang it in a cool dry area? Wrap it and place it on a shelf? In a fridge?

    What kind of shelf life are we talking about months? years? Does the shelf life vary between the brine soak and the smoke?
    :-)

    Reply
  • noisynick January 21, 2011, 5:53 pm

    we just leave it hanging in the smoke house or we take it and wrap and freeze it. we usually butcher and smoke in the fall. If its gonna freeze hard we hang it in the pantry

    Reply
  • Jamie January 21, 2011, 9:21 pm

    http://www.deejayssmokepit.net/
    One of the best sites I found for all kinds of preserving of food. Everything from making your own beer to making salami and all kinds of brine, salting, smoking, roasting coffee, making cheese and fermenting foods. Explains cold smoke vs. hot smoke, brine vs. cure
    It’s free download!!

    Reply
  • ChefBear58 January 23, 2011, 1:35 am

    @noisynick- You are already on the right track with the injection “marinade”, to be a real cure you need some kind of salt. I usually use the brine method rather than injecting, you can, it works, but I found when I was taking Garde Manger (French traditional cold kitchen i.e. smoking, curing, pate, ect.) that the whole muscle meats that were injected with brine and smoked were quite a bit more dry inside than those just soaked in brine. Just my personal observation.

    @Jennie- The shelf life will vary depending on the type of meat, climate, ect. The liquid brine alone will extend fresh meats shelf life a bit (days), and helps to make the meat more tender and retain moisture through the cooking process. The dry cure post will give you more information about extending the shelf life even further, it is important to remember that the liquid brine is meant to be used in addition to other preservation methods and works exceptionally well with smoking. Depending on the preservation method and storage there is the potential to have cured meats as a viable source of nutrition for years. I would go into more detail, but you’ll just have to read the upcoming posts (don’t want to give up all my secrets in one post!). The way I brined/smoked venison hindquarter is #1 brine, #2 smoke, #3 let it cool in the smoker to ambient temperature #4 wrap in cheesecloth #5 place the wrapped smoked meat into a cloth sack #6 refrigerate or hang in a cool dry place until your ready to eat it. The only other modification I make sometimes, is to also dry cure the meat before smoking. I have had hindquarters preserved like this last 4 months without refrigeration (probably would have lasted longer, but we had some hungry folks come over for dinner who wanted to try it).

    @Jamie- I haven’t seen that site before, thanks I am going to explore it in more detail tomorrow. The information I am relating in this and the following posts was gained through first-hand experience. That being said, the posts I have written, books, and the site you posted the link to can only teach you so much the best way to learn is hands-on. If anyone has not tried to preserve their own meats, it can be pretty inexpensive to get started, and is a great way to become more self reliant.

    @ Jarhead- Man your gonna give me a swole head! Thanks again for letting me share with everybody!
    Thanks guys!

    Reply